Interview with Brittany Williams, WWF-US

Posted on 14 August 2020

Not all forest work happens under the canopy.
Sometimes you need a conference room (or a Zoom call in the midst of a pandemic). WWF-US’s Brittany Williams brings her roots in fieldwork to her efforts in the policy space. We sat down with her to learn more.

What is your role at WWF?  
I am the senior program officer, policy for forest and climate. In this role, I lead our team’s policy and advocacy activities that promote increased forest conservation at scale to avert the worst impacts of climate change, safeguard livelihoods, and protect invaluable natural habitats. This translates into actively engaging in global policy negotiations, discussions, and events to support governments, companies, and civil society in their development and implementation of forest-related nature-based solutions. 

What are you currently working on?
I am coordinating a process to update WWF’s position on forest carbon across the network. The current WWF position on forests and climate change mitigation was written before the REDD+ Warsaw Framework was adopted at UNFCCC’s COP19 in 2013, the Paris Agreement was adopted at UNFCCC’s COP21 in 2015, and the International Civil Aviation Organization’s emission mitigation approach CORSIA was adopted in 2016. All these events, especially the solidification of the Paris Rulebook, have significantly changed the shape of voluntary and compliance carbon markets, and our position needs to be updated to reflect these changes in order to provide up-to-date principles and guidance for WWF offices as well as for our corporate partners. 

How did you get involved in this kind of conservation work?
I grew up in Northern California, and my family took full advantage of the good weather and beautiful landscapes to spend lots of time outdoors—picnicking, biking, hiking, camping, and swimming. Those experiences, combined with my love of animals, instilled a deep wonder of nature in me from a young age. By the time I entered university, I delved into courses on rural development policy, political ecology, environmental justice, and environmental philosophy and ethics, subsequently obtaining degrees in international development and environmental policy. Upon graduation, I served as an agroforestry extension agent with the Peace Corps in Guinea for two years, where I got to combine my interest in sustainable development with my passion for conserving nature by supporting community-based projects focused on reforestation, apiculture, and food security. After several more years working on agricultural development for a USAID contractor, I returned to school pursuing a master’s in environmental management to reground myself in my dual interests in climate change action and sustainable land use and then found my way to join WWF’s amazing Forest and Climate team.

2020 will be an interesting year for global climate negotiations. What do you think should be prioritized on the global stage? 
With the world facing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the next UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, COP26, in Glasgow delayed until 2021, we are having to rethink the opportunities in 2020 to continue the momentum needed to achieve forest-related climate mitigation commitments and action globally. I think this is the year to really focus on non-Party stakeholder engagement by strengthening involvement of and collaboration between subnational governments, civil society, Indigenous peoples, and the private sector. Once such venue to do this is the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, which aims to connect the work of governments with the many climate actions taken by cities, regions, businesses, and investors. 

What does success look like from your point of view?
I would pluralize the word to say that it comes down to accomplishing a steady series of successes. These successes all look different, but they build on each other to move the world toward a sustainable future with a stabilized climate, healthy ecosystems, including forests, and thriving livelihoods. Examples in the policy realm that come to my mind include the inclusion of forests in the Paris Agreement text, the growing presence and participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities in global climate policy discussions, and the Green Climate Fund’s commitment of US$500 million to operationalize REDD+ results-based payments.

Can you share a source of inspiration for your work?
There is a particular valley in the Fouta Djallon region of Guinea that shocks your senses with its beauty. Sitting on a cliff and looking down upon its lush expanse of forest and waterfalls, teeming with life, I remember being overcome with wonder. Even years later, my mind can be transported to that place when I need a fresh dose of inspiration. I work my hardest so that landscapes like that one can exist and flourish for generations to come.
Brittany Williams
© Brittany Williams / WWF-US
Kokoulo River Valley, Guinea.
© Brittany Williams / WWF-US